This summer we decided to try planting the “three sisters”: corn, beans, and pumpkin/zucchini. I have heard that this is a traditional central American way of planting. The corn stalks are the stakes for the beans to climb up, while the pumpkins provide shade, helping to keep the soil moist and cool.
We planted two rows of 5 corn seedlings each – I thought it was too late for seeds – into a raised bed of home-made compost, about 1 metre wide (maybe slightly less) by about two and a half metres long. When they were 20 – 30 cm high, we planted 3 bean seeds around each corn plant, and some zucchini and pumpkins between these groups.
The beans and zuc/pump came up soon and started growing. And growing! They turned into a tall, dense jungle.
I hate pulling things out, but I could see there would not be room for all the zucchini and pumpkins. I had to remove some – leaving only 2 zucchini and 1 pumpkin, which was at the end of the bed, and would be able to wander out of it.
The beans started growing up and I found I had to train them up the corn stalks. All good so far. It was looking wonderful... HOWEVER! The beans kept growing like crazy, and we have now had to do some emergency staking. They were far too vigorous for the corn, and were beginning to pull the corn stalks over.
This morning we had a big storm, and two more cornstalks were down. We have put in some stakes, but we have had to cut some of the beans away from the top of the stalks, because they were strangling the corn. I’ve put some strings across between the stakes, and unwound some beans from around the tops of the cornstalks, then trained them along the string.
Currently we have eaten a few zucchini – not many – there is not really enough room for the plants to max out in the bed. There are corn cobs fattening up, and there are tiny beans forming.
I think we have learned a lesson here – not so many beans, not so many zucchini – maybe one zuc or one pumpkin – and it’s probably necessary to put in some stakes and string for the beans to climb onto as well.
I would try this experiment again – I’d like to see how well it works with less beans.
POSTSCRIPT: We have been eating the most delicious corn (!), and beautiful purple beans which turn green when cooked. There are two very large pumpkins growing fast. We had a few zucchini – not many – but the beans and corn more than make up for this.